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Am J Physiol. 1978 Dec;235(6):F515-27.

Renal potassium transport: contributions of individual nephron segments and populations.


General features of the processes that contribute to renal potassium excretion are understood from clearance, stop-flow, micropuncture, and in vitro microperfusion experiments. However, the complex architecture of the kidney has made it difficult to examine individual nephron segments in all parts of the kidney. Accordingly, the extent to which distinguishable nephron populations, such as superficial and deep, may differ in their contributions to overall potassium excretion are not known. Also, the nature of transport processes across the successive segments of the nephrons (including not only the underlying cellular mechanisms, but even the direction of transport) is not known for all segments in any one nephron population. Excreted potassium is derived both from filtered potassium that escapes reabsorption and from secreted potassium. The filtered portion is large in amphibians and may be larger than generally recognized in mammals. The remainder is secreted primarily by distal nephron segments (distal tubule and cortical collecting duct). Potassium is also secreted into descending limbs of Henle loops; apparently this fraction is recycled from collecting ducts, and so does not represent an additional quantity of potassium transferred from blood to tubule fluid. Systemic factors that affect potassium excretion (potassium intake, sodium chloride intake, mineralocorticoid hormone levels, acid-base balance, and diuretic treatments) do so by modifying the net uptake of potassium from blood to cell and by altering the rate of fluid flow through the distal nephron. Under most circumstances, the distal nephron in the cortex appears to secrete potassium and the medullary collecting duct reabsorbs potassium. Although it is clear that successive nephron segments transport potassium in different ways, evidence to date does not indicate that potassium is handled differently by superficial nephrons compared to nephrons whose glomeruli lie in the deeper levels of the cortex.

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